Saturday, October 8, 2011

Bringing in the sheaves

As incredible as it seems—to me at least—some ‘Christians’ still rail against and revile other Christians, especially Catholics and Orthodox Christians. Though not often to my face, but still to people whom I care about, I am accused of worshiping ‘a dead religion’ and being an idolater. I suppose these folks are acquainted with me well enough to know that I venerate ikons with a kiss, and that the church I attend ‘prays to saints’. Of course, that's really all they know, and all they want to know. They don't care to hear the explanation, or to understand it even when they permit themselves to hear it. Lock, stock and barrel, we are ‘simply wrong’ to do what we do, and our faith is considered dead. I liken this attitude to ‘stopping at the veil.’

In the film Agora, a frustrated and politically blackmailed Roman prefect of Egypt during the reign of Emperor Theodosios II cries out as he is leaving the presence of the Alexandrian Pope Kyrillos in protest, ‘I am a Christian! I am just as Christian as you are!’ Who is he crying out to? To the Pope, to the other Christians, mainly dignitaries assembled for a service, and to the mob of monks, the Parabalani, one of whom finally strikes him in the head with a stone, drawing blood. Why is he leaving in protest? Because the Pope is trying to corner him into betraying his lifelong friend, the pagan philosopher Hypatia. He quotes scriptures restricting the status of women, then refers to Hypatia by name as dangerous, and then demands that the prefect prove his loyalty to ‘the Gospel’ by kissing the Book.

What this film depicts cannot be proven with certainty, but it isn't mere anti-Christian propaganda. When Christians try to use force—no matter what kind—to coerce adherence to a set of beliefs, they are sinning against Christ. This film could not have been produced if there were absolutely no shred of evidence that in the late Roman Empire the Christian faith were not aggressively established. This spirit—and I believe it to be an anti-Christian one—is what I call ‘imperial church.’ It first surfaced during the wedding between Church and State beginning with Emperor Constantine. It kept rearing its ugly head through the early to late Middle Ages. It provoked many schisms, the Protestant Reformation, and led finally to a complete fragmentation of the Christian Commonwealth.

This ‘imperial church’ spirit, though originating in Roman times and extended in the Roman Catholic world, has for the most part moved on to infect what it seems to me are a kind of ‘Christian anarchist.’ No longer a primary defect of historic Christianity, it now makes its home in un-historic Christianity—among those who call themselves Christians but ignore the fact that the Church has existed before them. Believing that they are the only true and living church, and that their nonconformity with the majority of Christians is a virtue—they are the ‘seven thousand who have not bent the knee to Baal’—they try to shove their ‘faith’ down the throats of the unbelieving world. Like the Parabalani of the late Roman Empire, they would bully the world to accept Christ. Yes, this is ‘imperial church’ minus a pope, or worse, all pope.

Providing good reasons for the world not to become Christian, sparing not even those who confess Christ in the ‘dead religion’ of the saints, the new protagonists of ‘imperial church’ continue to scatter the flock that Christ came to gather, racking up converts by number, raking in the dough, but not actually as the old hymn goes, ‘bringing in the sheaves.’ How could they? To do this they would have to follow Jesus Christ and His holy apostles, and do what they see them doing. That's not part of their program of ‘bringing the world to Christ.’ No, they have a better way. But I still cling to the ‘faith of our fathers’ and keep singing inwardly and trying to do outwardly what the old hymn says,

Sowing in the morning, sowing seeds of kindness,
Sowing in the noontide and the dewy eve;
Waiting for the harvest, and the time of reaping,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves,
Bringing in the sheaves, bringing in the sheaves,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

Going forth with weeping, sowing for the Master,
Though the loss sustained our spirit often grieves;
When our weeping’s over, He will bid us welcome,
We shall come rejoicing, bringing in the sheaves.

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